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January 02, 2023

Sesame named a major food allergen by the FDA; here's what you need to know

Until now, manufacturers did not have to identify the ingredient by name on product labels. They could instead list it as 'natural flavoring' or a similar term

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Sesame allergy Manfred Richter/Pixabay

Sesame has been designated a major food allergen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sesame seeds and oil are often used in food recipes, including bread products, as well as in pharmaceuticals, lotions and cosmetics.

Sesame is now considered a major food allergen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a designation that requires food manufacturers to include warnings on products that include it as an ingredient. 

The addition to the list is the result of the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in April 2021. 

Other foods on the list include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Any foods containing these items must comply with food allergen regulatory requirements, which include properly labeling food products and preventing allergen cross-contact at food manufacturing facilities.

Until now, manufacturers didn't have to clearly label food items as containing sesame. Many items that contain sesame didn't list it by name, but instead noted natural flavoring, spice or seasoning in the ingredients.

People with life-threatening sesame allergies still need to remain vigilant when selecting food choices, the FDA noted. Many companies have started labeling their products, but for the next three to six months there may be foods on store shelves that contain sesame, but do not list it. People who are unsure whether a food product contains sesame are advised to check with the manufacturer before consuming it.

Symptoms of a sesame allergy

Sesame allergies aren't a new phenomenon, but the number of people with such allergies has increased in recent years. About 1.5 million Americans are allergic to sesame, including 17% of children with other food allergies, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Symptoms of a sesame allergy include coughing, difficulty breathing, low pulse rate, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, flushing in the face, hives, itching, rash, tingling in the mouth or throat, nasal congestion, atopic dermatitis and anaphylaxis. An anaphylactic reaction – when the body goes into shock, causing blood pressure to drop and the airways to constrict – can be fatal if emergency medical attention is not given promptly. 

People with an allergy to sesame seeds and oil also need to be aware of the potential for cross-reactivity, an allergic reaction to other foods similar in biochemical structure. Allergists say that cross-reactivity between sesame allergens is possible with rye, kiwi, poppy seeds, peanuts and tree nuts such as hazelnuts, black walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts and pistachios. People with sesame allergies are advised to talk with a physician about other foods they may need to avoid.

Foods containing sesame

Sesame seeds and oil extracted from the seeds often are used in food recipes, pharmaceuticals, lotions and cosmetics. Sesame seeds are available in three colors – white, black and brown.

Sesame oil is used in many Middle Eastern and Asian dishes, and in some vegetarian dishes and salad dressings. It is often used in bread products, marinades, sushi, certain cereals, granola bars and in baked goods.

When checking labels for sesame, also look out for other ingredients that may contain sesame. They include benne, bene seed, benniseed, gingilly, gingilly oil, sesamol, semolina, sesamum indicum, sim, tahini, til, vegetable oil, natural flavoring, spice and seasoning. 

Here is a comprehensive list of foods that may contain sesame as an ingredient, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education:

• Asian cuisine (sesame oil is commonly used in cooking)
• Baked goods (such as bagels, bread, breadsticks, hamburger buns and rolls)
• Breadcrumbs
• Cereals (such as granola and muesli)
• Chips (such as bagel chips, pita chips and tortilla chips)
• Crackers (such as melba toast and sesame snap bars)
• Dipping sauces (such as baba ghanoush, hummus and tahini sauce)
• Dressings, gravies, marinades and sauces
• Falafel
• Hummus
• Flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews and stir fry
• Goma-dofu (Japanese dessert)
• Herbs and herbal drinks
• Margarine
• Pasteli (Greek dessert)
• Processed meats and sausages
• Protein and energy bars
• Snack foods (such as pretzels, candy, Halvah, Japanese snack mix and rice cakes)
• Soups
• Sushi
• Tempeh
• Turkish cake

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